Processing plant closures like this one are why the Canadian Pork Council is advocating for plant employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine
Olymel representatives announced this week that the hog slaughtering, cutting and deboning plant in Red Deer, Alta. will close temporarily as conditions at the plant are no longer safe and efficient due to several hundred employees testing positive for COVID-19.
The plant has dealt with a few cases a month for the last few months and had specific processes in place that were addressing the cases, said Dr. Deena Hinshaw Alberta’s chief medical officer of health in a press conference.
Due to events that weren’t limited to what was happening on the worksite, the number of employees testing positive for COVID-19 increased, said Hinshaw.
The plant officially closed Feb. 15 and it’s unclear when it will reopen. Olymel is currently working with Alberta Public Health Services, Occupational and Health Services and the representatives of the Union UFCW-401 to safely reopen the plant.
Olymel released a statement on Feb. 19 addressing hog producers in the province and the estimated backlog of approximately 80-90,000 animals.
Plant shutdowns “does impact producers directly in a couple of ways,” said Gary Stordy, spokesperson for the Canadian Pork Council. “One is the space available becomes an issue and then the additional is cash flow, basically feeding of the animals and frankly just not getting paid.”
This isn’t the first processing plant to close in Canada due to COVID-19 outbreaks, and industry has adapted to these situations, but closures can’t go on indefinity without issues, said Stordy.
“The processing plant being shut down puts strain on the system and animals need to go somewhere else,” he told Farms.com. Additional issues arise “if another processing facility goes down or stops operating. Or what if this processing facility restarts, and then a short while later, it shuts down again? It's really these first couple of days or weeks that are stressful and logistics comes into play. But it does come down to the ability to move animals to other destinations and working through.”
Olymel plans to put strategies in place which includes moving company-owned production to the United States to create plant capacity for independent hog producers. This process is ongoing, and it’s anticipated the backlog will be cleared up in four to five weeks after the plant is able to resume activities, said the statement.
Instances such as these is why the Canadian Pork Council is advocating for employees in processing plants to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, said Stordy.
“They're designated as essential workers and there's a number of important people that should receive the vaccine, but when possible and appropriate, we do you feel that any processing plant employee, regardless of where they're located, should have a priority access to the vaccine, because of, frankly, the complications of what happens further down for producers and the industry as a whole,” he explained.
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